About two years ago I started writing a novel about my years in the Air Force working on the flight line. I started out with the plan that in fiction I could make those four years end differently, and subsequently I could have a whole different life. Oddly, though, I got caught up in the re-telling of my story, making things happen differently for me out on the flight line (more interestingly) with the men I worked with. And the ending of the book that I thought up at the time was like a formulaic romance. (Bleck.)
When I went to work part time that winter and had to work the afternoon shift, I couldn’t write anymore during the hours that had been the most productive for me. I lost almost all my momentum. Then I kept re-writing the last chapter – the book’s ending – until I realized that I wasn’t being true to my original purpose. It was starting to resemble my real life.
It often felt like I had strayed onto the wrong path somewhere along the line. I had followed one unhappy marriage with another. Although I had always loved to draw and paint and write, I quit all those things. Instead I struggled against my own natural abilities to “become a scientist” so I could “save endangered species.” I did get a degree in wildlife science and I eventually got a job as a zookeeper, which I loved. But after a while even that wasn’t enough. The problem was that without an advanced degree, the right connections, or super powers, I would never have a competitive advantage in a small, highly specialized field. And I had none of those things.
It took me twenty-plus years to come to the conclusion that I should have stopped listening to my parents long before I hit puberty, and I should have gotten my degree in fine arts and art history – the things that come naturally. I may have been able to do more to aid my cause of saving endangered species as an artist and philanthropist than I was ever able to do working in the trenches myself.
On the other hand, the experiences I had as a zookeeper and as a student of genetics and wildlife science have been priceless. Whatever else I become in life can only build on those things, never negate them.
So, now what? I’ve left a lot of things unfinished in my life that I shouldn’t have, and stuck it out with other things long past the point when a sane, rational individual would have thrown in the towel. Obviously, I should finish my novel – with an ending that makes sense in light of what I was aiming for when I started. Maybe if it’s successful I’ll have a reason to write some non-fiction about women in the military at about the same time I was in – between “conflicts,” when the feminist movement was still struggling against the status quo in a society that still firmly believed in male dominance. Not that society has changed much in that belief, but practices are different now.
Perhaps it’s still possible for the rest of my life to turn out the way I hoped it would when I made that crazy decision to join the Air Force and fly out of the nest.